Triphala, a combination of three fruits–amla, bibhitaki, and haritaki fruits—is the most commonly used herbal formulation in Ayurvedic medicine and may have powerful anti-cancer properties. Unfortunately, one in five Ayurvedic herbal dietary supplements were found contaminated with lead, mercury, and/or arsenic.
Image thanks to Daniel R. Blume
In terms of antioxidant power, I couldn't imagine anything ever beating out cloves, but then, silly as a gooseberry comes along. But then in a whole 'nother league, triphala. Triphala is the most commonly used herbal formulation in all of Ayurvedic medicine. "Tri" means "three"; "phala" (in Sanskrit) means "fruits". It's just a combination of three fruits: Indian gooseberries, amla, bibhitaki fruit, and haritake fruit. It's not some drug, some extract, but just three types of fruits, dried and crushed into powder. What can it do? Well, antioxidant-wise, one little pinch between your fingertips, which would cost a fraction of a penny, has as much antioxidant power as about a cup of blueberries. We're in the big leagues, here!
It seems to be able to do all the same amla tricks: preferentially wiping out breast cancer cells in vitro, but leaving normal breast cells relatively alone. Pancreatic cancer, too. By the time this concentration of triphala was reached, 95% of the pancreatic cancer cells were dead. As you can see, only 10% of the cancer cells survived. If triphala were less toxic to normal pancreas cells, we'd expect to see something like this. And if it were completely nontoxic to normal cells, we'd expect maybe this. But what they actually found was this. It actually kind of went out of its way to protect the good cells while killing off the bad.
Quoting from a review, recently "All these reports suggest the effectiveness of triphala as a nontoxic selective antineoplastic [anticancer] agent." Meaning, nontoxic to normal cells at doses toxic to tumor cells. That's what we want.
So what's not to like? 2011 analysis, "Detection of toxic heavy metals and pesticide residue in herbal plants which are commonly used in the herbal formulations". Uh oh. We started recognizing it as a problem about a decade ago, when the CDC started noticing cases of "Lead Poisoning Associated with Ayurvedic Medications". Fatal infant brain disease, paralysis, deafness...
So, researchers in Boston went to every Indian market within 20 miles and picked up every ayurvedic herbal medicine product they could find. One in five contained lead, mercury, and/or arsenic. And that's just a little bit. They found out that those suffering ayurvedic lead poisoning had higher lead levels than those suffering lead paint removal poisoning!
And it's not just Boston. A national survey a few years ago found that women using ayurvedic herbs had lead levels 24% higher than non-users.
As spelled out in an editorial in the "Indian Journal of Medical Sciences", "Ayurvedic lead poisoning [is] an under-recognized, international problem".
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is transcript contributed by Bruce A. Hamilton.
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For more context, check out my associated blog post: The Science of Acai Berries